The most important life lesson from a 103-year-old

Last November I wrote about my friend’s 103rd birthday. Sadly, she didn’t make it to 104, and we celebrated her life of joy and gratitude last Thursday at my church. She selected the story of the prodigal son as the scripture for her service; she was someone who had known alienation and reunion. At the end of her life though, colourful helium balloons decorated a sanctuary filled with hugs and forgiveness. Over 103 years she had learned to celebrate love when you see it and never let it slip from your grasp.

Here’s how I know:

A few years ago, a new couple started coming to our church. They were typical in that they hadn’t been actively involved in church for some time, and they had all kinds of wary misconceptions about what “church” would be. But they wanted to get married, so they sought a faith community that fit their progressive theology.

They quickly became a cherished part of our congregation. One of them helped with our decor and planned fun activities; the other joined our church council. Their love for each other was obvious to all around: true and timeless. When they got married, members of our congregation filled the pews to support them and cry tears of joy as they exchanged vows.

On a Sunday morning not long after their wedding, my friend—a mere 99 years old then—made her way into the coffee room with the help of a walker. She saw one of the newlyweds and told a friend that she would like to speak with him. He walked over and sat beside her. She reached out a hand to his and said, “I am so glad that you are here with us, and I wanted to congratulate you on your wedding.”

He thanked her and went to share what she had said with his husband. They are a same-sex couple who married in our sanctuary.

Some people might think that older people have old-fashioned ideas that can’t be changed. But what my friend learned in her 103 years of life is this:

When you see love, celebrate it, whatever form it takes.

4 thoughts on “The most important life lesson from a 103-year-old

  1. Joanne

    Arlene, this brought tears to my eyes. I have a gay brother who has had a rough time a few years ago with a relationship that turned sour. He is now very much in love with his new partner and I have watched him find his joy in life again. But at the same time have also had to witness some of the petty and vicious reactions they get when they are out together. I truly believe your friends lesson, and wish more people would also..

  2. Kathleen

    I’m glad that this has touched some people. Thank you for that. However, this post feels a bit backwards to me and made me cringe a bit. Despite its intent to the contrary, it indirectly highlights stereotypes, that: a) same sex couples who participate positively in a church community are an anomaly, and b) old people who are supportive of same sex partnerships are an anomaly. I suppose that is because these stereotypes are still alive and well in many parts of Canadian society. I look forward to a day when this situation (an elderly person expressing positive feelings about any couple, regardless of orientation) is not an event that is considered by some people to be surprising or noteworthy.

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Much as I wish it weren’t so, same-sex couples participating positively in a church community still are an anomoly. Much as I wish it weren’t so, same-sex couples getting married in churches are still an anomoly. Much as I wish it weren’t so, some people who were born and raised in an earlier time still do have difficulty supporting same-sex marriages. (Younger people do, too, judging by comments in other places.) I hope that my post opens some doors a little so that all of this can change, and that people will celebrate love where they see it, whatever form it takes.


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